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High on Fire

Live In Milwaukee, 2002

Review by Mike Korn

The buzz is huge on High On Fire. Their new album "Surrounded By Thieves" has emerged as one of my favorite metal albums of the last few years but the question always remains: can the power of the album be recreated live?

The answer is no. The power was not recreated, it was surpassed! High On Fire is definitely a live band first and foremost. With just a 20 minute set, these guys unleashed a ferocious attack of metallic fury that left this headbanger weak in the knees and begging for more.

The occasion was Milwaukee Metalfest, the infamous yearly celebration of insane volume and aggression that seems to be both loved and despised. This was the occasion of HIgh On Fire's "coming out" into the big time of the metal underground. On a stage devoid of anything but basic lights and with acoustics similar to what you'd get inside a nuclear submarine, Matt Pike, George Rice and Des Rendel took command like the US Marines hitting the caves at Tora Bora.

In a weekend saturated with cookie cutter death metal, the true heaviness of HOF was a delight. With a riff-crazy approach similar to a cross between prime Black Sabbath and Celtic Frost, they opened the attack with "Nemesis", one of the most aggressive cuts on "Surrounded By Thieves" and proceeded directly to the ominous "Eyes and Teeth" also from said album. Matt Pike is awesome! I've never seen anybody beat his guitar like this guy does...he literally made it cry for mercy. The thick and deadly sounds emanating from the instrument are unlike anything else being done. Pike is really an innovator and the crowd of knowledgeable, hard-to-please metalheads was in a headbanging, horns-waving trance as he dove into High On Fire's arsenal of war. He's ably backed up by the pounding double bass excellence of Rendel and the lower-than-low bass attack of Rice. This is a great classic 3-piece unit, comparable to Motorhead and Venom in their prime - not so much in sound but more in brute force.

High On Fire moved onto a doomy jam from their debut "Art of SelfDefense" that I didn't get the name of and then returned to "Thieves" with the crushing "Speedwolf" and catchy "Razor Hoof". Pike's crusty vocals also fit the music well, as he delivers strange tales of fantastic events. They trotted about the superb "Steel Shoe" from the debut and then wrapped things up with the ultra-intense "Hung Drawn and Quartered". Many bands at Metalfest can hang their heads in shame, seeing as how they could never measure up to such a heavy duty, sweat-drenched attack.

And that was it. I would have loved to hear one of their long epics like "Thraft of Canaan" or "The Yeti" but it was not to be. It's unbelieveable to think that they created this much devastation in such a short set. How much deadlier would they be with a full set and decent sound? The mind boggles.
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2002 Year Book Volume 3 at
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